Riding Dirty w/Gen Z: A Generational Drift in MRX Perception

Here’s a pic of my bike after I ate it trying to navigate the unforgiving terrain in Marble Falls, Texas. I think it’s a nice visual metaphor of our industry currently trying to appeal to younger generations. 

I went to an off-road adventure park with a friend this weekend to get dirty on our bikes and unexpectedly ended up chatting with some Gen Z dirt bikers over a BBQ lunch about their opinions of market research, which surprisingly they were all familiar with - and not in a good way. 

On my 90 minute ride back to Austin, two words were bouncing around in my head: Generational Drift. 

If you don’t read anything else in this musing, just know that generational drift is real and if we don’t rethink our approach to how we design and conduct research industry-wide, we’ll all lose out on being informed by two groups that are shaping the future, including the future of our industry. 

Over the past decade we’ve seen massive shifts in cultural practices and beliefs about everything from increased environmental awareness and inclusivity to the rapid adoption of emerging tech like AI and the profound impact of social media on their identities. These shifts are undeniably influencing attitudes and preferences about almost everything under the sun. 

And I know some of you are probably thinking “No shit Jay- we get it!” For those of you that are- I’m not talking to you, but keep reading anyway. 

Today we’re at the doorstep of what I see as a major challenge: successfully engaging a relatively new wave of research participants - Gen Z and Gen Alpha - both with unique attitudes towards traditional market research methods. The age of long, boring, impersonal surveys, sterile focus groups, MROCs that look like they were designed with a potato, and low incentives no longer interest these generations. Their world is one of dynamic, personalized content, instant gratification, and equitable earning opportunities.

Again, I’m sure this isn’t surprising to many of you because I’ve personally talked about this with some of you at conferences and on calls throughout the year. That said, many of the folks in our industry, particularly those rare-air decision makers at the top of some of the brands and players in our industry, seem to have their heads in the sand about this. 

It’s as if they’re competing for the grand prize in the “Pretend it’s Not Happening” sweepstakes. And we all know they love sweepstakes vs paying equitable incentives to participants but that’s a story for another day.

We often find ourselves at an impasse of sorts with these two groups, not because they lack insight, but because our methodologies are simply not keeping up with their speed of change. The standard survey we’ve relied on historically, once a tool of precision and insight, now elicits the modern equivalent of a yawn. 

But is this a barrier or is it a gateway to innovation in MRX?

What I gathered from my chat is that Gen Z and Gen Alpha are not disinterested in research; they simply require a different approach. An approach that is engaging, interactive, and respects their time and intelligence. An approach that better mirrors who they are, their cultural interests and pays them fairly. 

We need to rethink research not as a one-way interrogation but as a mutually beneficial exchange. We need to do more to mirror the world they live in and the way they engage. This means leveraging more immersive and visually stimulating technologies, personalizing the content, and providing better pay structures for their intellectual labor and time so that we can transform our research initiatives from a chore into something fun and appealing. 

And for those that think it’s about educating them on what research is- it’s more than that. 

It's not about changing them to fit the market research mold; it's about changing the mold we created to fit them. 

Generational drift challenges us to evolve, to innovate and keep pace, and to reimagine market research. 

So what are we gonna do about it?